Helmet Safety 101

By Kelly O’Brien

If there were a helmet safety police force, I would apply to be captain immediately. I am the person who tells casual Divvy riders their helmets are on backwards. I am also the person who wears a helmet while dog walking on icy days. If you can only purchase one new cycling accessory this year, please consider a helmet. Here’s why you should think about upgrading your current one:

PSA: Helmets have a lifespan! After three to five years, the foam inside your helmet hardens and becomes more susceptible to cracking. It's an excellent idea to replace your helmet after that time frame EVEN if you've never crashed while wearing it. If your helmet has been involved in an accident, please replace it immediately...even if there's no visible damage!

Plus, helmet technology is constantly evolving, and the latest safety feature, MIPS, can make all the difference in protecting your noggin from serious injury. MIPS, or Multi-directional Impact Protection System, is an added layer of protection in helmets designed to redirect the linear AND rotational forces that occur when your head hits the ground. Helmets without the MIPS liner only account for the linear forces when most real-world impacts actually subject your brain to a combination of both linear and rotational.


There’s an even more advanced version called MIPS Spherical that takes the rotational energy management to a whole other level. Instead of adding a MIPS liner to an existing helmet, the spherical design introduces a two-piece foam shell for extra rotational protection and increased rider comfort. If you’re interested in seeing the difference in person, ask to see my new Giro Aether. I love showing it off because it matches my bike perfectly…and it’s super safe, of course.

You're probably thinking, "Wow this cool technology must be really expensive!" WRONG. One of my favorite helmet brands Giro has helmets with MIPS starting at just $45.

MIPS is a significant development in helmet safety, but it’s not the most important factor when deciding on your next helmet. FIT is even more crucial. That’s not an acronym in this case. I’m just talking about how a helmet fits your head. Some helmets are universally sized while others offer different dimensions. No matter the size, every helmet we stock features an adjustable dial. By turning the dial, you move a full retention system inside the shell of the helmet. You want to tighten the dial enough so that you can tilt your head down to the ground and the helmet stays put (even with the chin strap unbuckled!). The shell and its retention system hold the helmet in place. Thus, it’s a good idea to get into the habit of resetting the dial each time you put on your helmet because how your hair falls one day versus how thick of a cap you wear the next day will slightly change the fit.

Outside of the retention system, there are other key aspects of fit. Firstly, the helmet should sit flat on your head. When it’s level, you should be able to lay a couple fingers horizontally along your forehead between the helmet and your eyebrows. Secondly, make sure the adjustable dial doesn’t have to be set on an extreme. If you have to tighten it all the way before the helmet feels snug, move down a size and vice versa. For universal sizes, if you can’t pass these tests, then you need to look at helmets with specific sizes to find the perfect fit. Once you check all those boxes, you can adjust the straps. The little plastic pieces on each strap should be slid just under the ear to form a V-shape around the ear. When you buckle the strap, it should be loose enough that you can open your mouth wide, but tight enough to fit a couple fingers between the chin and the strap. The straps and the retention system work together to ensure a proper fit, so check over both before riding.

If you have questions about how your helmet fits or whether or not it should be replaced, please feel free to bring it into the shop for inspection. To be honest, all of the information here really just scratches the surface of helmets. Speaking of, if you come into the shop with actual scratches on the surface of your helmet, don’t be surprised if I ask how they got there. I’m just doing my job as future captain of the helmet safety police.